At the end of January, new NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian unveiled her reshuffled cabinet which included a swapping of roles between former Environment Minister Mark Speakman and Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton.
Upton has not only taken over the environment portfolio but is also the Local Government Minister - an interesting appointment given both are important and contentious policy areas, begging the question, why give these two major responsibilities to one person?
Among the commitments made by Speakman and his office were the roll-out of a container deposit scheme by July 1 and the implementation of a range of construction and demolition waste reforms by March 1.
The CDS roll-out has now been pushed back to December (see Related Articles) and the C&D reforms, which garnered in-principle support from the sector appear to be on hold.
The C&D reforms go beyond managing construction and demolition waste and will have far reaching impacts on other waste streams, especially with the proposed repeal of the proximity principle.
Waste Contractors and Recyclers Association of NSW (WCRA) executive director Tony Khoury told Inside Waste the timing of the ministerial reshuffle is unfortunate for the sector and to make matters worse, Upton has two important portfolios to manage, meaning it is likely she has little time to devote to environmental matters in the beginning.
"All she's worried about are local government matters," Khoury said.
"WCRA thinks that's all very disappointing because there are some critical issues that need to be addressed in our industry and we are going to lose momentum.
"The C&D changes have been proposed and they're out for consultation. It would be nice for the government and the minister to give these matters some priority. The commitment was made by Minister Speakman for March 1 and what's in that document and its commitments are what we're asking the new minister for, that they put the resources in place to address these issues."
Khoury has reached out to the minister's office but was disappointed with their response.
"The minister's office has indicated to me that the matters in the waste sector are of a lower priority than those in the local government sector," he said.
"I understand that she's going to need a little bit of time but in the past, the minister always wanted to meet early on, wanted to know what's happening. But when you're told that local government issues are our only priority at the moment… Maybe it'll change after this week because they've made some decisions on local government," Khoury added, referring to Premier's decision to push ahead with forced council amalgamations in Sydney but abandon mergers in regional areas (see Related Articles).
Khoury is calling on the minister to continue pushing ahead with the C&D reforms and to start addressing the "critical issues" the industry is facing.
"The fact that the reforms are stalled means the issues continue on and look, reversing the proximity principle is not going to solve the issue of long distance transport in any event. There still needs to be a desire by the government and by the EPA to address the problem," he said.
"These issues are important and I can't believe the government doesn't think that they are a problem when they're losing $100 million a year in waste levies.
"We understand that Queensland is part of the solution and if we're going to have a proximity principle, it's going to have to be a national proximity principle rather than state-based - we understand all that but we just need to keep on to these issues and if we're not on to them, we're never going to make acceptable progress."